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Neymar to sign for Barcelona

Brazilian striker opts for Catalonia over Madrid in five-year deal

Leo Messi (left) and Neymar greet each other during the Club World Cup in 2011.
Leo Messi (left) and Neymar greet each other during the Club World Cup in 2011. REUTERS

Brazilian striker Neymar will be a Barcelona player from next season. The Catalan club has reached an agreement to sign the much-coveted 21-year-old from Santos until 2018, beating off competition from Real Madrid. The youngster is set to complete the deal on Monday.

“FC Barcelona has agreed terms with Santos and Neymar to include the player for the next five seasons,” Barça announced on its Twitter page at 3.15am Sunday morning, putting a definitive end to years of speculation about the future of the Brazilian superstar.

Neymar, who had already signed a precontract with Barcelona, had himself confirmed the news a short while before. “I can’t wait until Monday,” he wrote on his page on social-networking site Instagram. “My family and my friends already know about my decision. On Monday I will sign the contract with Barcelona.”

The deal was closed over a year ago and was sealed on Friday by Barcelona’s director of soccer, Raúl Sanllehí, and the Santos board at the São Paulo club’s Vila Belmiro stadium.

Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez had sent two representatives to Brazil to lure Neymar to the Spanish capital but they admitted that not even bettering Barça’s financial terms could delay his signing for the team’s arch rival.

After accepting the need to sell their star striker, whose contract ends in 2014, Santos had left it up to Neymar to decide between the two “received and accepted” offers.

But ever since the 2011 Club World Cup, where Barça thrashed Santos 4-0 and the negotiations initiated, Neymar has not hesitated in expressing his preference, repeating that he would like to play in Barcelona alongside the Leo Messi he so admires.

Quite how he will fit alongside the Argentinean in the Barcelona lineup remains to be seen, however. Always one for speaking his mind, former Barça coach Johan Cruyff on Friday expressed his doubts over whether Neymar and Messi could share the same locker room. “Two captains on the same boat don’t work,” said the Dutchman. “You have to learn from the past.” To what exactly he was referring was not quite clear — perhaps to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s fractious relationship with Messi, which ended with the Swede leaving the club a year after signing for its highest transfer fee in history.

“I am going to go to Spain to play soccer and be happy,” said Neymar, who also thanked the Santos fans for nine “incredible” years and insisted that his feelings and support for the club “are never going to change.” “Only a club like Santos could give me everything I needed to live off and on the field.”

Barça has already paid Neymar’s father 10 million euros as a transfer bonus and has steadily gone on increasing its offer to Santos, to reach 28 million euros, plus the promise of two friendly matches, according to figures published in the Brazilian press. Sources close to the parties involved say the entire transaction is worth around 50 million euros, the figure agreed with the player in 2012.